December 10, 2009

One Way Natural Gas Drilling is GOOD For PA Trout?

One of the hot button topics in Pennsylvania (and referenced in this blog on several occasions) is the impact of natural gas drilling now that the state government has opened up huge expanses of state park lands to extraction. The main environmental issues (beside the obvious encroachment on the forests) are that the drilling requires a large amount of locally-provided water, and the increased risk of fish kills resulting from chemical spill contamination.

I found this article today outlining a Penn State University study focusing on how the building of the drilling infrastructure is assisting the spread of invasive plant species in Pennsylvania forests. Bad, right? Maybe not 100% evil. Conversely, this limestone road building seems to also have a positive side-effect that could actually be good for fish such as trout.

A few notable excerpts are below:

Researchers learn why invasive plants are spreading rapidly in forests

University Park, Pa. -- Invasive plants are advancing into Eastern forests at an alarming rate, and the rapid spread has been linked by researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences to forest road maintenance and the type of dirt and stone used on roads.

Perhaps predictably, according to David Mortensen, a professor of weed ecology who has been studying the spread of invasive plants for nearly two decades, humans are unwittingly accelerating the relentless march of invasives into even isolated forests. The findings are especially significant in the face of massive forest road-building efforts expected to support greatly expanded natural-gas drilling operations into the Marcellus shale formation. Hundreds or even thousands of gas wells could be established in Eastern forests in the next few years, depending on the market price of gas.

Perhaps the most startling finding of Mortensen's research relates to the nature of dirt and gravel on forest roads that enables invasive plants such as Japanese stiltgrass to thrive.

"The crushed limestone used to surface many forest roads and to line culverts and drains along those roads are creating ideal conditions for the invasives to spread rapidly," he said. "The high alkalinity sediment from the stone, mixed with water running off the roads during storms, eventually spills out into the forests, carrying invasive plant seeds and creating areas for them to grow quickly. The high alkalinity prevents native plants that have become adapted to acidic forest soils from growing, and invasives such as Japanese stiltgrass fill the void."

Ironically, the crushed limestone is being used on many forest roads and in ditches and drains that parallel mountain streams precisely because the material leaches a high-alkalinity slurry that improves the productivity and water chemistry of the streams. That benefits the wild trout and other aquatic organisms that have suffered in many mountain streams after decades of acidic atmospheric deposition (acid rain).
Read the entire article at Penn State Live:


  1. If it helps the local trout population than it might be worth it but, I would still try to keep an eye on things if possible.

  2. No doubt. Despite this little side effect, it all goes down the drain (no pun intended) if there's a chemical spill from the hydrofracking. I still think the cons outweigh the pros heavily.

  3. Very interesting article. I agree though that the risks of all this far outweigh the benefits.